Queensland didn’t legalise homosexuality until 1991 (which kind of blows my mind when you think of Australia’s reputation for being an open and welcoming country). That, says dj and all-around-charmer Kurt Luthy, is what made going to The Terminus in the mid-80s such a thrill.Transcript
I think the thing that made it all the more exciting for us was the absolute illegality of everything good is definitely an all pervasive air of, of danger that accompanied all of this. And that led itself to a bit of excitement to be honest.
K Anderson 0:22
I’m K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces, and podcasts that mourn the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories they created there and the people that they used to know. Currently, he began working in the music industry as a nightclub and radio DJ in 1987. And since then, has worn many hats, including artist management and executive producing. We talked about Terminus and nightclub that opened in Brisbane in Australia in 1981. And which parents started going to as a fresh faced 17 year old in 1985.
I grew up in a regional town called Rockhampton. And as as the way high school finishes on a Friday, and I finished my senior year on a Friday, and I was booked on the first flight out on Monday. And you know, this was a pre arranged deal that my mother had made with me, as long as I finish school, I could leave straightaway. So I did and, and I did that mainly because obviously, I wanted to be involved in a more Metropolitan type scenario. And Brisbane was the obvious stepping stone because even though it was probably one of the lesser cosmopolitan capitals in the country, it was still a capital city in my own state that I was familiar with. So So I moved to Brisbane, and very quickly found myself going to the terminus, which was probably one of three very well patronized and very popular gay nightclubs in the mid 80s, early to mid 80s, in Brisbane, all of which were pretty much centered around fortitude Valley, which, by way of comparison, and I know you’re in London, you know, it would almost be offensive for me to compare it to, because it’s not so hard. But I guess it was fortitude Valley was brisbanes Red Light District, it was also an area that was rife with corruption. And this was one of the things that always fascinated me and drew me to the area even just as much as a gay nightclub where I could go and dance and and, you know, wear makeup, which we all did, and have outrageously high hair and all that sort of stuff. It was also centered firmly in the midst of some of the most vise ridden streets known to the country actually, and, and the government of the day, as it famously was exposed, was one of the most corrupt in any democracy in the world, whereby the police and the police commissioner, and several members, high ranking members of the government were all on the take. And so of course, everything, everything in the 80s in Queensland was illegal. homosexuality was definitely illegal. Wow. Yeah. And so when I was late teen 17, was when I first started going to the terminus. And of course, I was under age, we were all we were all. We’re all under age, and homosexuality was illegal. Gay nightclubs, were pretty much, you know, not meant to be. Prostitution was certainly illegal gambling was illegal. The great irony being that the true powers that be we’re making a huge amount of money, out of prostitution, out of gambling, and even out of the queer gay nightclubs, because to save yourself from being raided every other night, you would pay off the Queensland police and this this was a well known thing. Everybody had their own deal. Everybody had their own rate. And they would still come and raid the gay nightclubs in particular, just to give the public the impression that they were, you know, being very heavy on deviance. And this was another thing that was introduced when we were all frequenting the terminus, the passing of legislation, an act called the DV intact, whereby publicans so anybody behind the bar, who was the license or licensee was in endowed with the the right to refuse service based on one’s appearance, if they deemed that you look like a deviant, then they could not serve you, and furthermore could call the police. So this this was the climate and so was there any type of explanation of what they meant by deviant? Absolutely, it was very arbitrary. They would give vague recommendations of vague criteria. For example, if you were wearing all black before 5pm that would probably constitute you as being a deviant. Just been to a funeral. Oh, for sure, for sure. If you were clearly gay, that would be classed as a deviant. Obviously, we’re talking mid 80s. So So gender bender was in full flight and still highly popular and that was that was de rigueur amongst, you know, my peer group. Everybody was either not necessarily cross dressing but but certainly being quite flamboyant. And what have you and all the guys I knew we all wore makeup. None of us were doing drag it was just this this was you know, how we rolled a kind of new romantic punky type
thing far more that yes, you know, so clearly we were deviants and and this would manifest itself with police stopping us on the street in the middle of the day, I shit you not making us empty our bags, empty our pockets, we pretty much we made a spectacle of in broad daylight. You know, he became very used to it. And like I say, I wouldn’t swap it for the world because it showed me that things can go under a so called democracy and how corrupt this can get. And you know, it’s it is definitely helped mold my outlook on so called democracy and, and my political views to this day.
K Anderson 6:56
So we’ve kind of said, we’ve got a good idea of what Queensland Brisbane were like, in the 80s. What did that mean for you? What Who were you at that point in time,
I’d organize to stay with a friend who I’d met via the Queensland Theatre Company, because my friends and I had become very involved in theater and look, you know, there’s, hey, we’re taking all the cliche boxes here, young gay guy involved in theater. And so I’d organised that I could live with him and his mother, he went on to he was a straight guy, but just a tremendously good person. And he went on to become a bit of a name in television acting. And so you know, it was the intention. And it was it was always expected that I would audition for various acting schools in in in Queensland, or possibly even nada. But when I when I arrived in Brisbane, and started frequenting the terminus, that that had a huge impact on the, whereby I pretty much abandoned any notion of wanting to go and intention myself to another course or any form of study. And I really just wanted to spend my nights out clubbing and and that is essentially, what I ended up doing for the better part of the next year. And back in those days, things were cheap, life was cheap. You know, you could smuggle a cask of wine into a venue so that you didn’t have to pay for any drinks and stuff. Of course, it was horrendous. And you know, it never really throw up on yourself. But um, but that’s pretty much what I ended up doing was just involving myself heavily in nightlife.
K Anderson 8:41
So let’s get on to the terminus, can you help kind of give an idea of what the venue was like physically?
Short, it was, I loved it. And I think it also helped instill in me a love of subterranean venues, because you would have to descend down a decent set of stairs, it was certainly going into a basement level. And it was a relatively small club, I think the capacity would have been maybe, maybe 300. So it really was intimate. It wasn’t very wide, it was longer than it was, you know, wide. And it was it had a back exit that led out into a car park, which was highly advantageous. Because as soon as the raids were Yeah, yeah. So you know, security would automatically grab all of us that were clearly under age and hurt us out the back door and and we would essentially just scramble and scatter so that was difficult for anybody to you know, grab ahold of you and out into a carpark slash laneway. So that was the physicality of the place. Like I said, it was it was small, it was intimate. It was. It was Queensland so it was always hot. Even with air conditioning. It was hot. And the beauty of it was that it didn’t take much in terms of patronage to make it feel busy. Do you remember your first time, I vividly I went down I was I was quite nervous. Because you know, this is my first outing to a gay nightclub, actually. And I was all of 17. And, you know, I was concerned that maybe I wouldn’t even get in. But then of course, as soon as I started to descend down to the venue and queue and I could see that I was, you know, by no means the on younger age person. So I thought I can’t remember the chance. Nobody even asked for ID it was just like, you know, you paid your cover charge, which I think may have been $1. And, and you wandered on in and I think it was Friday night. So the place was heaving. And, and it was like, you know, as a kid in a candy store, you know, the hundreds of other people that were into the same sort of thing that I was into. on that first night, I saw my very first drag show, which was some really quite fucking horrible drag queens doing doing the rhythmics and Aretha Franklin sisters are doing it for themselves, which at the time was a hit. So I mean, it was it was current, at least. But you know, that was that was the first thing. One of the first things I saw upon being down there and, and sort of being a bit blown away. So right, okay, now, here we are, you know,
K Anderson 11:28
as to who we went on that first night.
Look, I was with one of my one of my best friends, Juliana, who remains one of my best friends. And she had fled Rockhampton several months prior to me. So I teamed up with her as soon as I was able to. So we went down there and to be honest, that’s by Look, I am gregarious by nature. So I had no problem in talking to whoever. And because i was i was i was legitimately intrigued and enthralled by by the various characters that were there. So I kind of made friends very quickly. And some of them I still have today, because we’re all pretty poor, you know, around the doll, I think we used to get $50 $50 a week, I think is what we got. So you would typically rock up with a cask of horrible wine. And, and, and the big drug of the day apart from obviously, you know, say it’s marijuana or amphetamines. And this pretty much predated ecstasy making its way into the scene as well. So we’re always after cheap bars, which usually would be a diet pill called Medi slim, which was amped up in pseudoephedrine. So you would neck several of those and and down that with, you know, large hungry Jack’s cups of fruit.
K Anderson 12:56
So sorry, I just need to say hungry jacks for anyone who doesn’t know it’s Burger King in Australia. That’s the name. Absolutely. Yeah. I just haven’t had that in a long time.
But at that stage, too, I was I was highly inactive sexually, you know, it didn’t even cross my mind. To be honest, even though I was in a room full of full of gays and lesbians sort of getting off was one of the last things I even contemplated, because I guess I was so into music. And I was so into dancing, that that was the highlight for me. That was the appeal. And that was the attraction. And that’s what I really pursued when when going there. Get get sideways on cheap over the counter, pharmaceuticals and, and debts?
K Anderson 13:47
And if, if so if we could go back in time, for one night, and we went to the terminus together. What would be the drink of choice? It would be Strongbow cider, standby, cider. What songs would we request from the DJ? Oh,
this is this is good. It’s tricky. There was a lot of high energy as I say, there would be a few that were very popular. That would be Earth a kid I need a man, one of the ones that I often requested. And and I will say I mean, you know, I think it’s probably poignant to share the fact that I went on to become a nightclub DJ for several decades and still work in the music industry. So as such, I was always so obsessed with the music and I was one of those guys that the DJ probably really disliked, you know, because I’d be like, how can you please play these? And and so another one that I would often request would be Nina Harkins, New York, New York. Do you know that one? Yes. Yeah. Fantastic. Such great. So and then there were a few classic how Energy songs by people like Hazel Dean. And there was another one, but by a group called lime called on the grid, these these probably mean absolutely nothing to. But they’re the sorts of things. Oh, and one more that sort of was one of those crossover hits that was hugely popular that I still love today is the BGS pinned chain reaction for Diana Ross. Yes.
K Anderson 15:26
So we’re talking about a typical night, what happens in the lead up to going out,
so it would be several of us congregating at somebody’s house, preferably, the closer to the venue, the better because you would be drinking, cheap, cheap, nasty liquor, and probably nicking a couple of the aforementioned Mehdi slim. And you do play whatever music you could, I mean, this was a tricky one too, because, you know, there wasn’t much money to go around. Once again, it wasn’t the internet so you couldn’t just YouTube something or Spotify or some to have to hopefully congregate at somebody’s house that had you know, a good mix tape would be a great thing. And hang around the mirror, doing each other’s makeup and here trying on clothes like it was it really was about the look and and ours would be spent in in getting ready to go to the club.
K Anderson 16:28
And so talk to me about the makeup in the hair, what would you What would your typical look
like to keep the makeup relatively natural, so I would have a relatively autumnal palette, you know, light browns, things like that. In terms of eyeshadow and stuff, always a darker eyeliner. Because I was always really fair anyways, I still am. So you know, going too heavy in dark colors. Just just you know, I wasn’t a golf. You know, I wasn’t about to make up like one. The hairspray of choice was one called final net. I don’t even know if it’s on the market anymore probably isn’t. And you would back home the fuck out of your hair, like we would have a really long fringe. And you would back home that so that it pretty much was anti gravity and set up right black mask, black eyeliner Foundation, of course, because you know, we were 17 we were city kids, you know, you had no foundation. Once again, there was no money, but there were some highly skilled shoplifters. So, you know, we we always had a decent range of makeup, you know, the girls would just go and flog it.
K Anderson 17:40
So we’ve talked about your hair. We’ve talked about your makeup, what’s the typical thing you’d be wearing on the night out?
Oh, God, let’s see. pointy shoes. Were always very big. And and I had several pair of those. I don’t know how I afford these things. I think there are shops as well that I purchased a fair bit from you will have a lot of Cheers. It was pretty varied. Actually. There was a lot of costume jewelry. I mean, I didn’t I didn’t wear that so much. I might wear the odd facts cab. I might wear the odd diamond t brooch look, everybody was always wearing everybody else’s clothes. That was one of the other things that I remembered. So you know, it was rare that you would wear anything as casual as t shirt and jeans like I never did. We never wore that there was always a costume of sorts and and i think you pretty much succinctly hit on it when you mentioned new romantics earlier you know so there were a lot of say white frilly shirts, jackets with with brocade on it, you know, a slightly military look. something akin to anatomy in the ads, something akin to an early Spandau Ballet, for the more adventurous and those with a bit more money, there would be certainly hair extensions would be big and and more that sort of look, the obvious references is Georgia dad, boy, George, people would do that. Look, I tended to stick mainly with a, you know, sort of a new romantic Look, I guess. Yeah.
K Anderson 19:19
Suddenly the lights are up, we’re going home. Or we’re getting kicked out of the club. What where’s the next step? What do we do next?
Well, typically what would you know nine times out of 10 because curiously enough, despite the fact that there was, you know, a very heavy handed police presence in Brisbane at the time while in Queensland at the time, they had amazingly generous licensing laws whereby clubs didn’t have to close until five so the terminals will always close at three and it had licensed until then, and then about two blocks away was was a club that still exists in Brisbane is still huge. Popular, it is nowhere near as queer as it used to be. In fact, it is pretty much the domain of heterosexual clubbing. But a nightclub called the beat. And that would be open until five. And once again, for whatever reason, these these venues were free or very, very cheap to get into. And so it would typically on this march up a block and go to the beach and stay there until five.
K Anderson 20:29
So you talked about your first year in Brisbane being clubbing going out and having a good time. What happened after that year?
Well, after that year, funnily enough, after after a night at the terminus. I was I was living in a suburb called Spring Hill, which is one suburb away from from the valley. So it was just a walk, and walk to the club and back. And I was sitting with a young British guy who was heterosexual and but he loved coming to party with us. And he came to party with us one night, and he and he met this girl at the club, and she was up from Sydney. And they hit it off. And I think clearly they had a had a good time that night, and she went back to Sydney the next day. Now he was clearly struck by her. And when we woke up the next morning, he said, I’m going to jump on a bus and go to Sydney, do you want to count? And and I thought, well, why not? You know, I’ve got I’ve got nothing here, I don’t have a job, I don’t have anything. And ironically, it was the it was the week that I turned 18. So I that entitled me to a big adult payment. I think it jumped from 50 bucks a week to maybe 100 bucks a week. And so you know, I was feeling flush, it was just like, Wow, I’ve got all this money. So I jumped on a bus with him and I went to Sydney, we you know, this, this, obviously is before mobile telephones, internet, any of that, all we had to go on was that this girl was living in darlinghurst on this particular street, and, and my friend tracked her down and I found myself in Sydney, did you ever go back? I did indeed I did. And look, things were kind of changing a lot by that by the time I did go back you know that there was shifts going on in the government and in the police force and all that sort of stuff, which and movement for the better. But it was becoming quite obvious that the terminus was probably about to run its course, you know, it was that they were competing, nightclubs opening up. And, and of course, you know, like anything, it has a life cycle. And so by, say 87 it was well and truly in my eyes on the wane, which was a bit of a shame because it holds, you know, a very nostalgic place for me even even after a year after. So yeah, I mean, these days, I think it’s I think it could be a titty bar. I’m not too sure. But um, it’s certainly nothing like it was. So yeah, I went back, but it just didn’t even feel the same. And to be fair, music was changing. And once again, music was always my focus, music was changing and the DJs at the terminus, weren’t progressing with music. You know, by this time, we were starting to head into the realm of house and all that sort of stuff. And the terminus was for my money was still stuck in a high energy loop. So you know what, it was a very brief passage in history for me. But certainly one of one of the most influential
K Anderson 23:51
for me, how did that club shape you was your first gay club. It was the first time you were allowed. Non heterosexuals?
Yeah, yeah, it liberated me. It allowed me to be me without any sense of censorship, you know, because once you were down in amongst those four walls, all bets were off, it was pretty much unbridled, you could be and say and do whatever you wanted, you know, it was it was truly small level liberal. And, and, surprisingly, you know, as bitchy as any gay scene can be as big as any scene can be. Surprisingly, people were very accommodating, you know, and, and they weren’t there to dump on you and stuff. And I think that was because, you know, outside of those four walls, we all had bigger battles to divide. And so there was a definite sense of solidarity and and comradeship. You no doubt. And that’s that’s what really struck me was was the lie. essence to be oneself and to, you know, express yourself as quiet and as trite as that may sound, and I think, certainly personified the gay scene in the mid 80s. in Brisbane, it was without doubt the the most popular nightclub at the time.
K Anderson 25:22
Did you ever go to the terminus? Do you have your own stories or photos that you want to share, preferably with lots of eyeliner on. Let’s connect on social media. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other places under the user name K. Anderson music. Last spaces is not only a podcast, but it is also a concept record. I’ve been writing songs about queer spaces and the people who live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing those songs periodically over the next year. You can hear the first single from the set, well grim boys, which is also the theme song for this episode, available to stream on iTunes and Spotify and other places and you might even want to buy it and if you can, if you like today’s episode, and you want to hear more, it would make a huge difference if you subscribe. And then on top of that, if you left a review or told your friends or posted something on social media, I would be your best friend forever. My name is K Anderson and you’ve been listening to lost spaces.